Wearing Heels in a Lumber Yard

Tomorrow, I have the privilege of seeing one of the most important people in my life. This woman is present in my earliest memories and has been at most every milestone event. She gives the best hugs; the kind you just melt into. She makes the most delicious sugar cookies. She is determined and don’t you dare think about crossing her anger threshold. We always have laughs and she sure knows how to have fun. She taught me an awesome queso recipe and that I should always come home at the time I am told. She’s shared some of the most heart wrenching information with me because she knew I needed to know the truth. She writes me poems in cards so cute I cut them out and frame them. Please meet my grandmother, Frances Swayze.

About 7 years ago, I sat down with Frances Swayze to have a talk. I never call her by her given name. As the oldest grandchild, I called her what I heard everyone else calling her- Mom. I wanted to know…well, everything I didn’t know. I knew Mom from my frame of reference but I didn’t know who Mom was prior to my existence. So, we sat down with my digital voice recorder and began talking.

Mom and I at my wedding in February 2010

She shared the names, birthdays, and stories of her 12 siblings. What it was like to be somewhere in the middle of the line up and watch the doctor come to the house to deliver you newest sister or brother. I was interested to learn that one of her brothers names was John Wesley as my husbands name is John Wesley. We shared a smile.

I had questions about the divorce she went through at a time when it was not encouraged or common at all. She actually waited until her mother passed away to get one. She didn’t get child support for her three daughters. She had to make it on her own and get a job at a time when jobs for women outside the home were few. Since many of her brothers were carpenters, she knew a lot about lumber and managing lumber for projects. So she set off to the lumber yard to see if she could get a job. She convinced them to hire her to manage lumber orders for contractors. She was required to wear a dress and heels…even in the lumber yard. At the time, she believes that she was one of only two women in such a role. The other woman was in Oregon. She had to watch every order carefully to make sure it wasn’t sabotaged by her coworkers who didn’t care for a woman in “their” workplace. She still remembers those 8-9 hour days in heels walking the floor of the yard. She went on to work for decades in the lumber industry.

When I was younger, around 8-10 years old, I remember going to the only place I recall her working. Her office was up a flight of stairs and had an open wall overlooking the lumber yard. I remember thinking it all was hers, that she was the Queen of the lumber yard. And in a way it was. She made her way in a career that tried to squeeze her out at every turn. Determined, she made her way. She beat them at their own game.

This is my heritage. I am proud of this heritage of women going against the grain. Taking chances, taking stands. Reminds me of the quote, “You have to be brave with your life so others can be brave with theirs.”

Mom, you are brave with your life. And now I try to be as brave with mine, still rocking those heels.